Tokyo, Japan

November 24, 2019

Walking with Basho

This past week I went to see where one of my idols grew up - a poet you may have heard of called Basho. He took his name after a banana tree around 350 years ago, and spent his years writing, walking the length and breadth of Japan, and creating art that's stood ever since.

Across the Sumida river, on the east side of Tokyo, you'll find a working-class neighborhood that's in the process of gentrifying. There's a mix of old homes, mom-and-pop restaurants, and concrete factories - and their replacements. Condominiums with names like "White River" and "Liberty Saga 2" and dozens of craft-roasting cafes.

But wander your way into Kiyosumi garden, way into the back, and you'll find a large stone engraved as a monument to Basho - and his journey and walks that started right there.

I curled through streets and ducked down alleys, my mind tracing how things might have looked when he was here, how things changed, and what stayed the same.

Herons and crows flew overhead. Cars and motorboats clattered by.

I made it to his shrine - tiny by most standards and not larger than my bedroom - but still there. Then a garden, a statue, a museum.

The museum itself was like his shrine - small, a bit worn down, not obviously remarkable. Next door, two giant caterpillar claw machines finished razing a building, digging a foundation for a new apartment complex.

But walking the halls, seeing his journals - the original travel journals that contained those haiku we still love today - I marveled that this place was even here at all.

I thought about how time passes, how so few things really last. About gardens and cultivation and the way rivers are timeless (how Basho and I stood here, side-by-side by the Sumida.)

But most of all, how there are a few hardened jewels, uneroded by the wind and rain and sands of time - and how lucky we are to have them.

Have a beautiful week,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw this week was obviously Basho's world. But the best thing I saw that I can share was this video of a Wisconsin couple who quit the internet for a month. Here's what happened.

p.p.s. If you get a minute, write a haiku this week. I know a guy who would appreciate it. :)

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